By Meaghan Walsh

As Republicans look to flip the Senate in 2024, three battlegrounds stand out with significant Republican primary spending: Ohio, Montana, and West Virginia. While each has sent Democratic incumbents to the Senate for over a decade, they each also voted for Donald Trump in 2016 and 2020. Republicans see the three states as crucial to taking back control of the Senate in 2024. With the balance of the Senate at stake, it is no wonder GOP candidates and issue groups have dropped $40.5M towards these primaries so far. 

A bar chart showing Republican primary spending in Senate races

In Ohio, both the GOP primary and the upcoming general election will likely be incredibly tight. While Senator Sherrod Brown has a high approval rating among voters, the demographics in Ohio are becoming increasingly conservative, as evidenced by the election of Republican J.D. Vance to the Senate in 2022. Ohio’s current GOP primary is a competitive race between Trump-endorsed businessman Bernie Moreno, Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose, and State Senator Matt Dolan. While LaRose does boast an important seat in Ohio politics, millionaires Moreno and Dolan have the capacity to partially self-fund their campaigns

The competitive nature of this primary is reflected in the $23.6M spent so far by Republicans, the most of the three states. Moreno has the greatest ad support at $9.8M, followed by Dolan at $8.5M. LaRose is third with $3.9M. LaRose’s campaign has yet to spend, as his support is currently fully funded by the group Leadership for Ohio. Meanwhile, Club for Growth Action has placed $2.8M to support Moreno. The largest PAC supporting Dolan is the Buckeye Leadership Fund with $957K placed. The top issues mentioned on broadcast in Ohio’s Republican Senate primary are immigration, Donald Trump, and illegal drugs. As his endorsed candidate, Moreno is the leading advertiser among ads that mention Donald Trump. 

As candidates vie for support in Ohio, political leadership in Montana has largely coalesced around Trump-endorsed former Navy SEAL Tim Sheehy. Overall, Montana’s Republican primary has seen $8.6M in total spending. Sheehy dominates the conversation, receiving 92% of overall ad support. The main groups spending are pro-Sheehy advertisers More Jobs, Less Government ($2.5M), and Veterans on Duty ($1.0M). The largest Republican group to advertise and not discuss Sheehy is Montana Policy Action with $287K in political ads against Congressman Matt Rosendale. Rosendale, however, has since dropped out of the Senate primary as of February 15th, 2024. His official candidacy lasted less than a week. 

West Virginia has seen $8.3M in Republican primary spending so far. In what was to already be a difficult race for Democrats, Joe Manchin’s retirement announcement means no incumbent advantage. Trump-endorsed West Virginia Governor Jim Justice is looking to flip the seat in 2024. He currently holds a significant lead over his primary opponent Congressman Alex Mooney. Justice has seen the most ad support overall at $3.1M. The largest group supporting Justice is Defend American Jobs at $1.7M. Meanwhile, Club for Growth Action has placed $1.5M against Justice. Mooney has seen $987K in total ad support.

The over $40M primary price tag for Republicans in Ohio, Montana, and West Virginia demonstrates just how important these races are for flipping the Senate in 2024. As such, AdImpact will continue to monitor spending and messaging trends in these and other competitive races across the country.

For spending and messaging analysis on Democratic Senate primary spending, check out our recent blog.

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